Columns > Published on July 31st, 2012

Is Kickstarter A Viable Tool For Writers?

It used to be that if you wanted to record an album or write a book, you had to beg your parents for money or get a job flipping burgers, just to keep the lights on and the booze flowing while you toiled at your art. 

That paradigm has shifted, thanks to crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter, where you can post a work-in-progress, request funding by enticing people with exclusives and rewards, and ultimately fund your dream without the indignity of filing out an application at the local Starbucks. 

It's like a public endowment for the arts. It democratizes the process; the people choose what they want to hear or see or read. Sounds cool, right? 

But the site and the process aren't without criticisms. Some people regard it as little more than digital panhandling, and Kickstarter has been accused of not policing its own back yard; allowing projects that never come to fruition, and not protecting customers when money disappears. 

Quick aside: Last night, on my commute home, I sat on the subway next a couple in their mid-30s. The guy was telling the girl about Kickstarter, and said they should figure out some way to get people to give them $10,000.

People like that certainly don't help. 

Good for writers

Kickstarter has been used--to great success--by a number of writers, including some friends of LitReactor. Christa Faust used it for her second Butch Fatale novel, and Craig Clevenger, in conjunction with Six Finger Films, sought funding to film a sequence from his upcoming novel.

LitReactor columnist Kelly Thompson just successfully funded her self-published novel (and she also wrote a great column about Kickstarter for comic books--check it out). 

I asked Faust why she decided to go with Kickstarter for this project. Here's what she said: 

If I were looking to publish my first novel, I would never think of trying something like Kickstarter. But if you're already established so your fans know they can count on you to deliver and people who are finding out about you for the first time can easily Google you and your professional track record, it makes a lot more sense. Especially for a small, niche pet project like my Butch Fatale series. I never had any illusions about making a six figure deal with a traditional publisher for this kind of sexy hardboiled lesbian private eye series. But I figured there might be just enough people crazy enough to help me make it happen. And they did.

Kickstarter even has a dedicated publishing category, where you can browse literary-minded projects, from proposals for self-published novels to anthologies and literary guides.

It makes sense, to crowdfund these kinds of thing. Anthologies have it tough--they're not cheap to produce, and it's hard to sustain a model where people are rarely, if ever, getting paid. (Not to say passion doesn't count, but sometimes real life rears its head and there's no stopping it.)

And it's nearly impossible to self-publish a novel or novella to any kind of professional standard without a cover designer and an editor. Those things don't come cheap.  

Ah, but...

Kickstarter gives life to products that may have died on the vine. But while the website offers opportunities to fund writing projects, that doesn't mean that all writing projects will get funded. 

Last month Kickstarter began posting stats for success rates on projects--and less than 32 percent of publishing-based projects actually reach their funding goal. The average failure rate is 41 percent, with publishing toward the bottom of the pack, only ahead of the technology category. (The most successful category is theater, at 64 percent).   

So what gives? This is the internet. Someone posted a video of a bus matron being taunted and the internet raised her $700,000

Well, it's hard to convince people to give you money. Just ask the panhandler who hit me up today so he could "buy a ticket to get back to New Jersey." (Why anyone would pay to go to Jersey is one thing; that he's been doing this for weeks is the real reason I don't pony up). 

Authenticity and name recognition help, as Faust points out. So do the prizes and exclusives you hand out to backers. Clevenger offered a six-fingered hand wire necklace, hand-made in Bolivia--that's several different shades of cool. 

Still, passion and cool prizes don't always seal the deal. 

Recently Andrew Galasetti was seeking money to hire an editor for his novel, To Breathe Free, which he planned to self-publish. The first time he tried to get the project off the ground, it timed out without getting fully funded, and if you don't meet your goal by the end of the fundraising period, none of the money gets paid out.

He re-started the campaign, and recently met his $2,000 goal. I asked him what lessons he learned from the process. 

My first big mistake was that my funding goal was too high with my first campaign. I was looking to raise funds to cover all of my initial costs. So what I did this second time around was to create a funding goal that would help offset some of my expenses but would require me to use my own personal savings to cover the other initial self-publishing costs.

The second mistake was not giving my campaign a long enough deadline. Kickstarter recommends 30 days so I set my first project at 31 days. This was not nearly enough time to reach out to potential supporters and media outlets. Unless you are launching the latest viral iPad accessory or have a massive following like Seth Godin, I recommend authors using Kickstarter to do more than 30 days. My second project had a deadline of the Kickstarter maximum of 60 days. And it will take me each of those days to reach the funding goal.

The third big mistake I made was focusing too much on reaching out to national media. I knew I needed to raise awareness and was impressed by the media attention that other Kickstarter projects were receiving. However, I realized that it’s best to focus on your family, friends, and readers. Connect with them. They will support you as soon as you launch your project, when your deadline fast approaches, and continue to support you even if your project fails.

Some sound advice. It takes a lot of work and promotion and goodwill and planning to get a project funded. 

But even with cool prizes and forethought and conservative estimates and name recognition, Kickstarter is burdened by some negative stigmas. 

Issues of perception

Asking for money is hard, in any context. Doing it on the internet is harder. 

Some people just don't like Kickstarter, saying that its "for-profit enterprises using the internet to essentially panhandle under the guise of social good." Or that it "takes the place of having a solid business and funding plan."

Kickstarter has also taken some heat, accused of not protecting backers when a project turns out to be exaggerated or outright false (Kickstarter argues that they're just a middle-man, and can't vet every single project on the site).

Some people are just plain fed up with the glut of projects that stall out. Tech-site Gizmodo pledged to stop writing about Kickstarter because of how many projects have little basis in reality.

Then there's people like this. Honestly, if someone has a compelling argument for how this is a real project, and not some clever idea they came up with to fund a vacation to Southern France, I'd love to hear it. 

What do you think? 

Personally, I've given to six Kickstarter projects. Seven, if you count the one my wife contributed to for a friend's album that was from both of us. I've gotten some cool swag, and the warm-n-fuzzies, knowing I helped bring a project to fruition that I really believed in.

On the other hand, I can understand the hesitation some people may feel. Giving money to anything on the internet is a bit of a gamble. 

What are your thoughts on Kickstarter, fellow writers? Is this something you'd use to fund a project? Got anything in the pipeline you'd like to get some backing on?

Readers--do you believe this is a good way to fund projects? Do you feel this gives you more of a choice on what kinds of things you get to read?

Oh, and, FYI, if you post your Kickstarter campaign in the comments without contributing to the discussion, it's getting deleted. 

About the author

Rob Hart is the class director at LitReactor. His latest novel, The Paradox Hotel, will be released on Feb. 22 by Ballantine. He also wrote The Warehouse, which sold in more than 20 languages and was optioned for film by Ron Howard. Other titles include the Ash McKenna crime series, the short story collection Take-Out, and Scott Free with James Patterson. Find more at

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